Gulf Coast Fisherman Magazine Vol 39 No. 1 - Page 28

by John H. Hook The Bay Naturalist Paranormal on the Beach... The Ghost Shrimp O f all the common beach crustaceans that are used for bait, probably the very best is the least recognized. Ghost shrimp very well may be the ultimate surf bait for pompano, whiting, redfish and spawning croaker. They are also the least used. Depending on your stance regarding the paranormal, these guys are very appropriately named. They are always there but never seen! The next time that you are standing in ankle deep surf, pay attention to the small holes in the sand, each with a mini-volcano of surrounding sand. There will be an obvious flow of water coming out of the hole but no evidence of what is making them. While we do have some surf clams that will produce a similar mark, the vast majority of these openings are the outflow holes for ghost shrimp. If you want to get them out of the hole, forget about digging them up, they have that angle covered. The rest of the burrow is a “U”-shaped tube structure that has another opening in subtidal water in the first gut. As you attempt to dig up the shrimp he will just scoot down the burrow way faster than you can dig. You’ll get tired and frustrated way before the ghost shrimp runs out of tunnel. So, now you know about these guys and a little grilled pompano is sounding pretty good. How can you get your hands on them? Thank the Australians for inventing the “yabbie pump”. Ghost shrimp aren’t only found around the Gulf, they are a successful group with many species worldwide. The Aussies figured out that you could suck the little guys out of their burrows using a suction plunger made out of PVC pipe. They are easy enough to build but they are also 28 GULF COAST FISHERMAN available in many bait shops or in the world’s biggest market, the Internet. The idea is that you place the PVC pipe over the shrimp’s hole, which is best done at low tide, and then pull up on the plunger to create suction. It usually requires a bit of an angle, and figuring out how much and in what direction requires thinking like the shrimp. It takes a little practice to get the hang of it, but once you do you can get all the law will allow (20 per day in Texas) in no time. The trick isn’t complete with capture, though. The darn things are tricky to rig on a hook, too. They are a little too big to use whole for most of your targets, except drum and reds, so using them in bite size pieces is the way to go if you are chasing pompano, whiting, or croaker. Even then, keeping them on the hook can be a challenge. Once you have that solved, you are in business. Whether they are better bait for pomps than plain peeled shrimp is debatable, but there is something to be said for catching the bait that catches your fish. Some areas may be closed to harvesting your own ghost shrimp, so check local regulations. For example, Padre Island National Seashore is closed to harvesting ghosties because they are a valued member of beach ecology. Their burrows that run through the nearshore bottom help aerate those sediments for other life forms and deliver nutrients into the shifting sand bottom as well. They are called ecosystem engineers by coastal ecologists because they help create and maintain habitats that would not exist in their absence. They are probably safe from overharvesting as long as good alternatives are available at the local bait camp. They require just enough of a sweat and time investment that only a few fishermen are willing to yabbie up enough for bait. Ghost shrimp are not a common item on our menu, but on other coastlines around the world they are coveted for their unique flavor. There are some tricks if you choose to eat them instead of using them for bait. Like crabs, lobsters and mantis shrimp, ghost shrimp decompose rapidly after death. This renders their meat to a gooey liquid which is used for soup flavoring but not worth the trouble of catching them. Steam, boil or fry them while still alive and they yield a succulent meat very similar to a cross between lobster and Gulf shrimp. Fried, they are typically eaten shell and all in Asian cultures. The trick is to fry them just enough to crisp the shell but not so much as to turn the meat to rubber. These beachfront mystery shrimp have all kinds of potential whether your interests are culinary, ecological or simply want to turn a few into pompano fillets. They are a challenge to find and capture, but would you expect anything else from something called “ghost Photo by Adrick Velasco GCF shrimp?” W W W. G U L F F I S H I N G. C O M